After Summering in the Hamptons, Leigh Taylor-Young Hopes to Be Invited Back in the Fall

updated 08/22/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/22/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is in a huff over it. Lee Radziwill has dismissed it as a fake. Many of their neighbors, who include Steven Spielberg, Nora Ephron and Irwin Shaw, feel the same way. The target of all this high-powered ill will is the latest evening soap, The Hamptons. With its five-week, on-location series, ABC is trying hard to put the posh Long Island getaway-ghetto for moneyed Manhattanites right up there on the prime-time lathermap with Big D and Dynasty's Denver. Although the debut episode landed in Nielsen's Top 20, the second installment plunged in the ratings. But despite the arguments over its authenticity and the uneven audience numbers, the show does manage to do one thing right: It casts the ethereally stunning Leigh Taylor-Young, 38, as society lady Lee Chadway, the embodiment of old-money elegance and glamour. Leigh understands the brouhaha over the program. "The Hamptons actually shocked me when I read the synopsis," she says, but for her that was part of the appeal. Says Leigh, "The story lines don't just skate over the surface but offer nuances on a human level. Some scripts make you strain to get their logic. This one had some depth."

Leigh is no stranger to TV suds. Back in 1966 she got her big break on Peyton Place. After Mia Farrow left the show, Leigh was brought in as the new ingenue, Rachel Welles. Off-screen, she soon married co-star Ryan O'Neal, and after 100 episodes Leigh was written out to have their son, Patrick, now 15. Then came a memorable appearance as Nancy, the stoned flower child in I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!, and more turkey scripts than she cares to remember. After her split from O'Neal in 1971 ("basically, he hit it big in Love Story and our lives evolved in different directions"), she moved to Santa Fe with Patrick, did a few more films, then bid farewell to Hollywood altogether. "It was an exploratory, reclusive time," Leigh recalls. Her five-year soul-searching odyssey on the consciousness circuit led to Swami Muktananda. She journeyed through India and, ultimately, back to L.A., where John Rogers became her spiritual sherpa through the Beverly Himalayas. Rogers' Insight Transformational Seminars—and related foundation centers—provoked, she says, "remarkable changes" in a once vulnerable, impressionable starlet. "To become a victim of your own sensitivity is not very profound," she says. "I was afraid to stand up for my values in front of overbearing producers. That's a weakness in this business."

By the late '70s she had acquired a new ally in addition to Rogers. The ICM agent she abandoned in 1973—Guy McElwaine—called to check on his former client. "I just knew that he was going to become someone special in my life," she says of that conversation. A year later—by which time McElwaine had become head of ICM's film division—they were married by Rogers. After heading the powerful Rastar Films, Inc., McElwaine, 46, then took over as a president of Columbia Pictures in 1982.

Leigh's adjustment to life as a major studio First Lady wasn't, as they say in Hollywood, "a lock." According to her, Guy is "dedicated unconditionally to his work, which is quite consuming. But I have to expand to include that." They share an airy modern house in Beverly Hills, where Leigh takes a Zen-like delight in such domestic minutiae as "setting out his clothes in the morning and quibbling over whether the hankie matches the tie. I find that romantic."

They are, however, creatures of different habits. "I don't smoke," she says. "I eat brown rice and yogurt, these funny foods like absolutely tasteless rice cakes. Guy is all meat and potatoes, drinks Jack Daniels. I like the windows open, he likes them closed. When he relaxes he watches sports on TV; I do yoga, work out or go hiking." So how does this produce what she calls "the one marriage that seems to work"? Observes Leigh, "On a heart level, we're extremely well-matched."

Leigh even applies an all's-well philosophy to her publicly cantankerous ex-husband. "I have a genuine experience of Ryan as a good person," she says. "He is very supportive of me and is happy for Patrick and me that there is Guy in our lives." Which parent does Patrick take after? "There's plenty of both of us to sort out," she says, smiling, "and that's a lot of sorting. What is lovely now is seeing him develop into his own person, regardless of who his parents are."

Leigh's hyphenated last name is the consequence of her upbringing. She and sister Dey (now married to Cheryl Ladd's ex, David) grew up in posh Bloomfield Hills, outside Detroit, where their mother, Pauline, is a patron of the arts and stepfather Donald Young is an executive VP of Burroughs. Leigh refuses to discuss her natural father, but says, "I loved both men, so I combined the two names."

Despite her California-consciousness lingo, Leigh is more spaced-in than-out. She radiates an unflagging serenity through huge hazel eyes that never seem to blink or wander nervously in conversation. "I have learned to function deeply within myself no matter where I am," she says. "When I was young I expected a lot from my work. I wanted it to give me my life. This show is a job, an opportunity to make people laugh or cry and to awaken emotions. But it doesn't give me my life. I do, and right now it feels wonderful and very solid inside there."

Should the summer numbers add up, that attitude could prove her best insulation against a chilly, late-fall/winter season back in The Hamptons.

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